It’s fair to say Chukwuma Okorafor had a 2019 to forget. Once thought to be in the mix for the starting RT gig, he handily lost out to Matt Feiler, struggled during training camp, and wound up starting just one game last season. After the year, he underwent shoulder surgery. Now, he’s in a make-or-break season with the right tackle spot wide open and Okorafor arguably the early favorite. Speaking with reporters via Zoom Monday, he spoke to the areas of his game he’s working on.
“I kinda have a tendency to have my hands out,” he told reporters via Steelers.com. “So I’m trying to have them be a little tighter.”
Hand placement was an issue we noted in our training camp evaluation of him. Here’s what we wrote last August.
“Fair to call him one of the bigger disappointments of training camp…specifically, his hand placement was poor and he struggled to create power on his punch because of it. Chuks is a plus athlete who gets to his spot quickly but is still working on getting stronger and playing with consistent technique. Very much a work in progress.”
The one benefit last season was getting to sit, watch, and learn from a guy like Matt Feiler, kicking inside to left guard following Ramon Foster’s retirement. One thing Okorafor admired was Feiler’s consistency and unwavering approach regardless of the pass rusher he was facing.
“[Feiler] really like trip out if he had someone who is well-known person and whatever, he kind of had the same set. So that’s, that’s kinda, my that’s kind of my main thing. And not just to kind of figure that out, the best set every time.”
Though we aren’t at training camp this year and info coming out of Heinz Field has been light, most indications seem to say Okorafor has been the early leader in the battle. He’s been given the majority of first team reps over Banner. However, Okorafor suffered a groin injury during Saturday’s night practice and missed today’s session. Tomlin classified the injury as day-to-day. The longer Okorafor is out, the more reps and chances Banner will have to state his case as the Week 1 starter.
If Okorafor wins the RT job this season and plays well, there’s a good chance he’s the team’s 2021 starting left tackle. Alejandro Villanueva is set to be a free agent after the season and with the Steelers having several key free agents and little cap room to work with, his odds of returning aren’t great.
But if Okorafor struggles again this season, the Steelers will probably have to look outside the organization, almost certainly through the draft, to find someone to protect Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside.